Town green a great place for a village to coalesce

The grassy area in the center of Charlotte Village, bordered by shade trees, town hall, Quinlan School and Charlotte Library is an attractive and welcoming public space. Yes, it provides tidy landscaping to showcase our public buildings, but it is much more than that.

Grange On Green, August 2021.
Grange On Green, August 2021.

Being intentionally quite open and versatile, the town green is meant to provide space for public gatherings and events which bring townspeople together in shared activities. It is meant to be accessible, whether for individuals seeking a quiet moment to read or eat lunch at the picnic table, or a gaggle of kids putting on a Very Merry Theater production, or for the town party showcasing local groups and projects. It’s a space to use for our common good. And rightly so, because it is our shared space — our commons.

Commons? That term came to us from a deep history in Europe, where most areas built public spaces into their villages and towns from the very beginning. Town squares and market places have always been vibrant and essential spaces for community life.

When rural villages first coalesced, a common grazing area for animals was normally established, to keep farm animals close at hand and safe. Native American cultures traditionally hold an even stronger concept of common good and sharing, and their settlement patterns reflect this. So, it is no surprise that early European settlements here included intentional public spaces — commons, or what became known as village or town greens. And, lucky us, we have one!

There is a tricky side to maintaining a common space, however, and it has to do with western culture’s tendency to promote individual interests over community interests (private over public). This became dramatically clear in those historic public grazing areas. Everyone shared the benefits and also the responsibilities for keeping the space productive and useful.

But time and again it was just too tempting for an individual to try to get a little more personal benefit by putting a few more animals on the common land, even when clearly that would stress the grazing capacity and diminish everyone’s benefits. Without strong cultural norms to rein in this temptation, many of these grazing commons were overused and lost.

When towns and villages were established in the American colonies (and later states), one way their governing bodies protected the larger interests of society was by accepting responsibility for land designated to be used for the public good, such as town roads, public schools, town forests and, in New England, often a town green.

And what of our little Charlotte Town Green? We can thank our lucky stars that we have it, available to all of us.

Let’s appreciate it for the treasure it is, and use it. It is intended as a place to bring people together in ways that strengthen connections and understanding within the community. A great way to do this is through having fun together, and Charlotte Grange invites you to do just that, starting with two special music events in June.

Back by popular demand, Grange on the Green will kick off the summer series of lively musical concerts from the library porch on June 9, featuring Charlotte’s own contemporary vaudevillians Woody Keppel and the Hokum Brothers. Bring your friends, bring a picnic, and be prepared to laugh and sing along. Family-friendly music, banter and maybe some juggling(?), 5:30-7 p.m.

Then come back for more local music on World Music Day, June 21, when the Grange, library and senior center offer an open mic for both accomplished and aspiring local musicians to share their talents with the rest of us. Individuals and small groups can book a 15- or 25-minute time slot 1-4 p.m. in the Charlotte Senior Center (email Lori York) or 4-8 p.m. on the library porch.

This is the way it works: If you offer to make music, we’ll show up, clap and be happy for you. That’s what you get when a supportive community gathers together.

And, as always, we treat our area with respect and leave nothing behind but good memories and happy anticipation of the next time we can share time there with friends and neighbors.

(Linda Hamilton is a member of the Charlotte Grange.)